T&D: I Am a Fan of ISD Before & After ID

I’m Playing With the Semantics of ISD and ID

Not everyone will agree with my quick definitions of ID and ISD.

Where I am headed with this post is the concept of Instructional Engineer … or … Learning Engineer.

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The ID designs and then builds Instructional Content.

The ISD designs a System of Instruction including the EcoSystem and then oversees the build out of the priority components.

The ID – Instructional Designer

Sometimes referred to in my past (40 years in the biz) as Instructional Developers by-the-way.

But to me the ID Builds and/or Buys and then perhaps modifies Content for Instructional Purposes. They do “one-offs” all too often for my liking – and yet I agree that sometimes a “one-off” is exactly what might be needed – such as an Instructional:

  • Standalone Job Aid
  • Job Aid embedded in Training
  • Training for Memorization and/or Honing Skills

I learned about these 3 options in 1979 from newsletter dated September-October 1970 put out by the former Praxis organization – the business owned by the late Geary A. Rummler and the late Thomas F. Gilbert. This is a recent post about that – here. And there are other posts as well.

The language that I use (above and in this next graphic) is my own – but I am sure that I cannot take credit for their origins. It most likely came from someone at NSPI back in the day (now ISPI).


I posted 4 Tweets in response to a query from Stephanie Moore PhD this past holiday weekend after I posted a Tweet about Learning Engineers

GWW: The Case for Learning Engineers in Education edsurge.com/news/2016-10-3… #edtech via @EdSurge

SM: What is your perspective on this, Guy? You’ve seen the various incarnations over the years of trying to engineer education. I see cautionary aspects and collaborative possibilities, suggesting a path to be navigated thoughtfully.

GWW: 1/ I like it in general, but the devil is/will be in the details. Engineering, or Architecting (as I’ve framed it since 1981), works best top-down in a systems (ISD) sense. To ensure modularity, continuity and a ramp up from foundational to intermediate to advanced …

2/ … focused on terminal Process Performance and Practices (usually easier to do in Enterprise Learning than in Educational Learning). A modular approach enables either macro or microlearning for initial and spaced learning, and opting or testing out when appropriate …

3/ but as you say, needs to be approached cautiously and not casually. Engineering (or Architecting/Architecture) carries a certain connotation of applied science, and our field’s history of adherence to that suggests that this could become the next stalking grounds …

4/ … for the unscrupulous amongst us. Set your BS meters to high gain, as I would guess this to be one of the next battlefields for attention and dollars. If only we had a central clearinghouse for valid concepts, models, methods, tools and techniques.

And I’ll add here and now: our language/terminology.

Engineering/Architecting – Same Diff IMO

I’m not a fan of the term Learning in place of Training (or the best term IMO: Instruction). But, I’m Old School. And I don’t get to decide on terminology. I learned that a long time ago. Mostly from other leaders in the field who back in the 1980s who took exception to our field’s sloppy language.

In fact, I joke about the reasons for the change from Training to Learning, blaming/crediting Peter Senge, having witnessed many of my clients make that jump back in the early to mid 1990s due to his very successful book in the business world, The 5th Disciple (1990).

From a past post


As people, like Jane Hart, point out – we don’t create Learning – unless of course you are using that term to mean Instruction, or Training, or Learning Solutions, or Guidance, or Job Aids, or EPSS, or Performance Support, or Workflow Learning, or Spaced Learning, or Micro Learning, or whatever I’ve forgotten and/or whatever comes next.

Colleague Will Thalheimer recently posted the following:

We Should We Call Ourselves? Let us Come to Consensus NOW!

He presents us with several options and then shares his choice: learning architects.

Now there are some who dislike us borrowing terms such as Engineering or Architecture and using it in our field/profession. I get that. But I am guilty – having been conducting Curriculum Architecture Design projects – producing an architecture of content and paths through that inventory – since before I became an external consultant and having done 76 of them since 1982 so far for my consulting clients – the last finished up December 31, 2018.

As a TPS at MTEC – Motorola’s Training & Education Center – the forerunner to Motorola University – back in 1981/1982 I architected a modular, performance based curriculum for Manufacturing Supervisors for 5 Business Sectors (SBUs) and created Planning Guides so that people could determine their own path through the modules – based on their specific job assignments and considering their incoming K/Ss due to their Education and Experiences.

Then I hired out the development of the modular priorities as selected by my Steering Team (30 Manufacturing Operations Managers).

I was the ISD – and the folks I hired were the IDs.

I produced a flexible T&D Path for Manufacturing Supervisors at 5 Business Sectors (SBUs) where some of the content was unique to a Sector, or unique to a location and a lot of the content was shared. T&D Paths have been called many things by my clients and I always have let them change that as they wished.

slide145 (2)

As an ISD – Before ID Efforts

I engineered or architected the modular system of Instruction and laid out a Path through the modules (later called T&D Events).

As an ID

I helped build out some of the Content – along with other contractor IDs.

As an ISD – After ID Efforts

I oversaw the deployment – and accessibility – and marketing of the availability and how to get it – as it was mostly Self-Paced – as I have posted about before.

Then I reviewed the data from the Evaluation System (that was a given for us) and brought issues to my 30 MOMs for their decision making on what to do, if anything. Those were Business Decisions IMO that IDs and ISDers should not be making.

Instructional Content ReUse

I’ve been motivated to consider ReUse (as I play with the Caps key) since 1981 – when it became apparent to me – working with my Manufacturing, Materials and Purchasing internal clients and getting exposed to Computers on the Factory Floor and CAD/CAM Systems and standard parts inventories, and cost saving in managing inventories and managing vendors (ideas borrowed from Japan who got them from Deming and Juran and others), etc., etc., – that that all applied to Instructional Content as well.


ReUse “As Is” or “After Modification” – is what’s at the heart of my CAD and MCD Methodologies – of my PACT Processes for T&D/ Learning/ Knowledge Management.

ISDers Have a Systems Engineering Role

And they establish a Data Logic. Here is mine:

pact data logic

Adapt – If You Cannot Adopt

And sometimes you adopt and adapt portions.

Slide1 (47)

Topics might be borrowed and adapted – just as tasks, demonstration and application exercises might be adapted – to ensure their authenticity – and making sure that they had more than Face Validity – that they had Performance Validity.

How often have you been fooled by a title or description that sounded just right for you and your needs – but then it wasn’t. It happens.

I was also driven to address Generic Content – and Fix It. Take it from Face validity to Performance Validity – a Buy and Adapt Strategy.


ISD Then ID and Then ISD

Again, I dislike one-offs. I’d rather an ID effort be consistent with a grand scheme – a Curriculum Architecture Design in my practice – where redundancy is by design and not inadvertent.


As an ISDer and an ID – I believe that Analysis is critical – to both roles/hats.


Instructional Architect – or Learning Architect

I don’t get to decide – but I cast my vote a long time ago.

An update in 2021…

This next graphic – with the image on the left – is from my 2020 book (#15): “Conducting performance-based Instructional Analysis“…


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